Oregon Man Sellers Website, Other Initiatives Aim to Advance Justice
PORTLAND, Ore. — All Douglas Tsoi wants is an economy that operates under the law of divine grace.
Last year in Portland, Tsoi launched what he calls the Underground Repair Market. It’s a kind of Craigslist website where every dollar spent is used to repair the financial damage caused by slavery, colonialism or racism.
Here’s how it works: sellers sign up to offer professional services and buyers pay for them. The buyer selects a repair organization from a drop-down list and half the money goes there. The seller chooses where the other half goes. The buyer gets a service and all funds go to restoring justice. The market is supposed to be self-sufficient.
“We participate in God’s economy, where money flows so that everyone’s needs are met, our kinship is recognized and our sufficiency in grace is celebrated,” said Tsoi, who is set to get his spiritual director degree at the Franciscan Spiritual Center in Lake Oswego, Oregon.
A dozen sellers now offer services on the site, https://rumpdx.comincluding pizza, handyman work, graphic design, writing consultation, cooking classes, private school admissions coaching, podcast production assistance, and spiritual direction.
“We live in a society where money is flowing to the rich, which means growing income disparity,” Tsoi said. “Could we build a parallel economy where money would flow to the people who need it most? Could we build a shadow economy that heals, helps everyone get enough and creates a sense of wholeness for everyone?
The website offers seven organizations to choose from, all of which aim to support groups that have been on the periphery. They include a group that helps black families buy homes and another that helps local indigenous people maintain ties to their culture and land. Another organization helps black farmers.
“Prosperity is really about sharing, collaboration and generosity,” Tsoi told the Catholic Sentinel, Portland’s archdiocesan newspaper. “There is no way to create a more inclusive society without creating a more inclusive economy.”
Born in Canada, Tsoi grew up in California. He was a lawyer, teacher and entrepreneur. Tsoi, 49, lived so modestly that he had enough money to retire seven years ago. He still only spends around $25,000 a year and lives in a two-bedroom house.
He felt called to dedicate his life to spiritual endeavors and to making the world more just.
“God asks us to participate in grace,” Tsoi said. “Money should serve the community, not the other way around. At some point, when you’ve had enough, you want others to have had enough. Having more isn’t going to make me happy.
Tsoi was inspired by Franciscan writings and the example of Saint Francis of Assisi himself.
Tsoi knows from the words of Jesus that action is involved in salvation. “Jesus asks: ‘Did you feed me? Did you give me a drink? said Tsoi.
Tsoi tries to translate monastic vows into modern life. For him, poverty becomes voluntary simplicity. Obedience becomes integrity to love what he believes. Chastity becomes devotion to God and to the path of God.
Tsoi is full of ideas. In 2020, he established the Jubilee Fund, in which donors donated money to eliminate neighbors’ credit card debt. These relieved debtors repaid the principal at 0% interest, with the money earmarked for redressing abused peoples.
“Essentially, we turned debt into donations, debtors into donors,” Tsoi said. “It’s a way for people to create and participate in a community of grace.”
The idea started when Tsoi paid off a friend’s $22,000 credit card debt. The friend and his wife agreed to repay Tsoi without interest, $400 a month for five years. Tsoi began donating the monthly payment to repairs. His money did two good deeds.
Tsoi hopes a larger institution will pick up on the idea and pick it up.
“Douglas Tsoi’s laid-back, caring demeanor did not at first suggest that he had been pondering, experimenting, and sharing ideas for most of his life about the mysterious relationship between spirituality and financial survival,” Lorie Simmons said. , a member of Holy Cross parish in Portland. and a classmate of Tsoi in spiritual direction at the Franciscan Spiritual Center.
“He seemed like a sweet, friendly guy who wanted to bring people together and foster community within our Spiritual Direction Training Program cohort,” she said. “But if you’re interested, you’ll eventually learn that he worked on creative solutions to some of the most difficult problems in human existence, letting Spirit work through him in profound ways.”
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Langlois is editor of the Catholic Sentinel, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.